The Butler's Pantry proves that not all innovations need to be loaded with technology.
The Butler’s Pantry proves that not all innovations need to be loaded with technology.

There are arguments to both support and criticise the humble Butler’s Pantry but whatever your view, it’s hard to argue that even the most basic of innovations can make a world of difference.

Imagine this. You’re waiting for some room service to arrive at your hotel room after a busy day where all you want to do is eat and flick on the TV before bed and you decide a quick shower is in order. Then for some inexplicable reason, the hotel sets what feels like some sort of world record in food preparation and knocks on your door just as you’re under the water. You might not even hear anything until the second knock. And after some likely colourful language, you reach the door and find nothing more than a note with a phone number to request redelivery. And that’s just for those with the confidence to even be seen by hotel staff in a robe or some haphazard state of sopping mid-dress. And then what if you’re in a regional motel and your door opens up directly to the street? It’s not an ideal situation for everybody.

Whether or not they were directly responding to scenarios such as these, the folk at Obie Hospitality in the United States have taken room service delivery in a new direction by building a small compartment it has dubbed the ‘Butler’s Pantry’ into each room. The company operates two small hotels – one each in Eugene, Oregon and Boise, Idaho. A second property in Eugene has broken ground and will open soon.

It’s really an ingenious concept – simple in nature but captivating in its functionality. Essentially, the Butler’s Pantry is little more than a small compartment with two secure doors – one on either side of the wall separating your room from the outside world and both locked from the outside. It could be described as a mailbox for individual hotel rooms. Room service orders are simply placed inside on delivery and the guest notified either through the room telephone or via text message. Guests then access their meal or order via their own door and once finished, put the tray back into the pantry and close their door. Hotel staff then access the pantry from their side and clear away the tray later that evening. The invention also does away with the all-too-familiar practice of leaving trays on the floor outside your room, creating a potential hazard, not to mention an eyesore, for other guests.

Each room has a Butler’s Pantry inconspicuously positioned next to each front door.

The pantry can also be used for guests to place a bag of laundry they have requested to be cleaned and then in turn for the hotel to return said items.

The moral dilemma that may be facing hotels – especially in the era of personalisation and online reviews stemming from customer service levels – is how a feature such as the Butler’s Pantry may impact said service levels by removing a potential interaction between guests and staff which is an opportunity to set a good example of service.

On the flip side of the coin is guest safety. The Pantry is a way to prevent hotel staff or anybody else who may be nearby from accessing a guest’s room while they’re inside. It’s a discussion open to interpretation and an individual’s own opinion in this regard. All you’ll hear from Curt Asmussen, Obie Hospitality’s Managing Director is that the low-tech innovation has been a wild success and the catalyst to hugely positive reviews, especially from solo female travellers.

“Our guests absolutely love our butler pantries. They offer many great benefits including privacy, convenience, safety and cleanliness.

“We have had no security concerns, as the butler pantries are locked from both sides. A guest has to push a button to release the lock from inside the room to access the butler pantry, and a room service attendant/guest service associate has to utilise an authorised signed out key to access and unlock the butler pantry from the hall side. It’s a great system that hasn’t created any security issues for our guests or our team.”

One of the hotels where you’ll find the Butler’s Pantry is the Inn at the 5th in Eugene, Oregon

Obie Hospitality Founder, Brian Obie added the hotel group conducted a number of focus groups to help it formulate new innovations, including asking women what they did and did not like about staying in a hotel.

“A large majority said they didn’t like answering the door for room service. We heard it so many times! We decided, why don’t we create some sort of external compartment where you don’t have to have an interchange if you don’t want to? Thus our butler’s pantry was born.

“Our guests have mentioned this more than anything on TripAdvisor, so we know they not only notice this design feature but appreciate it.”